The Total Destruction of Life, the Universe and Everything
The Irish Fair in St. Paul was an event I looked forward to annually. It was taking place on Harriet Island the weekend that Tina and I had our first and last session of couples’ counseling. I was planning to take Tina to it, but she was staying at her friend Amber’s on pet-sitting duty over that particular weekend and Tina was entirely unsure of when Amber would be returning. That was one of the things I planned to discuss with her when I called later on.
Meanwhile, I had a mirror to replace on my van, so I went out to get to work on that and pass some time.
The parking situation in Farmington could be a challenge. Especially in winter, but partly because of Tina’s intrigue, it was complicated year-round. I was always having to park my van in different places to keep peace in the neighborhood – and in Tina’s world. For a time when we’d first got back together, after I’d stopped drinking, she didn’t want me to park in the driveway, so I’d been in the habit of parking around the corner on the opposite side of the triplex. Then, Tina began asking me to park on the other side of that street, because the neighbors, she said had taken “too much of an interest in who’s van it was,” and she said something about them being “invested.”
She had been trying (and largely failing) to keep my presence a secret from a number of people. As to the neighbors being invested, I think they had a connection to Cassidy, who’d previously lived adjacent to them in the triplex and I’d guess Tina didn’t want him to know about my return.
On this particular day, I’d parked in front of the neighbor’s door (they had their own driveway), like I often did, once Tina took the secrecy down a notch. Christie came out and approached while I was unboxing my new mirror.
“Hey, Dan. Can I ask a favor?”
“You can ask,” I said with a bit of humor in my tone.
“Can I get you to park up there?” She pointed to the other side of her driveway. “See, I have a hard time seeing around your van when I’m pulling out and I almost got hit the other day.”
I sighed. “Sure, Christie. I’ll try to do that.”
“Thanks. I’m not trying to be a bitch or anything. I just really appreciate it.”
“Yeah. OK.” The humor was out of my voice. I set to work on replacing my mirror.
When I was finished, I took a picture of my reflection in the new side-view mirror, sticking up an accomplished thumb. I sent it to Tina.
After I packed up my tools, I moved the van up to the other side of the driveway like Christie had asked, and as soon as I shut it off, the neighbor from across the street burst out of his house, yelling at me. I looked up and saw the older man coming, unsteadily, towards me, literally shaking his fist.
“Why are you parking there?! You know Mike likes to park there! You come in here acting like you own the whole fucking place… I put up with your shit all last year,” he shouted.
I was completely baffled and more than a little agitated. I didn’t even have the faintest idea who Mike might be.
“I’m just doing what Christie asked me to do,” I hollered back. “I’m fucking trying to be accommodating, here! I just need a place to park on the public street. There’s no reserved parking, here.”
“I don’t give a shit. Find somewhere else to park that piece of shit,” he said.
“Fine.” I was seething, but I turned the key and started my van back up.
He went on ranting.
“I said, ‘fine!’ I’m moving it, ya lunatic,” I bellowed. I moved my van forward another 10 feet to mollify the crazy old man, making my walk back to the apartment door progressively further. At least it was nice out.
I couldn’t figure out what the old man meant about all of last year. I might have parked in front of his house a time or two. Insanity swirled around that place.
Tina texted back to say “nice mirror” and I told her what had happened with the neighbors.
A minute later, she replied, “What the fuck? I hate people.”
“How are you?” I texted back.
She didn’t answer.
I tried again an hour later. It was about ten at night by then. “Call me tonight?”
Half-an-hour later, she replied, “I’m good. Just reading on the couch. I am all talked out for today, my lovely Dan. I will call you tomorrow, mmmmmmkay?”
Another text followed momentarily, “XOXO.”
“Alright, sweetheart. Let me know when you’re up and at ’em for Irish Fair, Tomorrow. I love you. I miss you. I want to caress and kiss you…” I sent the text with a cartoon of a love-struck squirrel.
I had a hard time sleeping that night. I was on edge about Tina’s reluctance to talk with me since counseling. I ended up taking some anti-anxiety pills to help me fall asleep on Tina’s lonely bed.
I woke up late Saturday morning. Almost as soon as my eyes were open, my phone was in hand, checking to see if Tina had messaged. She hadn’t.
I went outside to have a smoke. I was hoping to pick Tina up and take her to Irish Fair at some point. I sent a text to my wayward love. “How about we get some lunch?”
It was almost noon by then, though, so time was of the essence. When half an hour went by without a response, I tried calling her. I was somewhat surprised she answered. The conversation was brief and frustrating, however.
I asked her about Irish Fair and she told me that she didn’t know when she’d be able to leave, because, “Amber’s coming back, today.”
“Great, then you should be off the hook. I’m sure her pets can get by without you until she gets back,” I suggested.
“No. I want to talk to her when she gets here,” she explained.
“OK. Well, when’s that going to be?”
“I don’t know.”
“Kinda hard to plan the day…”
“I’ll try to find out. I’ll get back to you when I know something,” she concluded the call.
Tina texted me a couple hours later with a not-too-enlightening update. “I am heating up some boiled peanuts and going on a poo-pick-up mission. Amber hasn’t responded yet, but as soon as she does, I’ll let you know what’s going on today. Love you!”
It was 2:00 by then. “I’m going to Irish Fair,” I replied, irked.
“Alright, Have fun,” she replied. “I’ll let you know when I hear from Amber and when I’m done here.”
I got dressed and made it as far as my van in my quest to attend Irish Fair, but that’s where I gave up. I really didn’t want to attend alone. There was still one more day of the fair. Maybe Tina would be ready to go with me on Sunday. I was still very anxious and had the feeling that Tina was avoiding me. I still felt strongly that we needed to talk about our counseling session. I needed to know we were on the same page.
I got back out of the van and slunk back into the empty apartment. I made myself a sandwich and tried to watch some television, but I was too distracted and worried to enjoy it. A foreboding feeling was looming darker as the day went on. The hours crept by without further word from Tina. I wondered what she was up to. I had a growing suspicion that she was talking to Nate while she seemed to be avoiding any meaningful conversation with me. I was being kept on hold.
I tried calling around six that evening, but she didn’t answer. Then, I texted at ten to try to prompt her. “So…”
There was no reply. I tried again at 11:30. “What’s up?” I wrote.
There was still no reply.
By midnight, I was at wits-end and fired off one last message before I took some anti-anxiety pills and went to bed. “I’ve been having the distinct impression you’re avoiding me and it’s freaking me out. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I assume you’ve been talking to Nate,” I began. “I’m feeling very much in the dark. Is that it, then? Therapy is a bust, have a nice life?”
I must have dosed myself pretty good, because I didn’t wake up until after noon. Again, the first thing I did was check my phone. Tina had finally messaged back around three in the morning, while I was in a deep slumber.
Her first message read, “I am okay. I read and slept… I’ve been talking to Amber and my mother. Is that a problem?”
Another message stamped 3:15 AM followed it. “She is back now. We are watching a horror movie and going to bed.”
I was still trying, but I was full of dread. That first message didn’t sit well with me. ‘Is that a problem?’ I was increasingly suspicious she’d been talking to Nate while avoiding me.
Still, I tried normalizing things and texted, “I never did make it to Irish Fair, yesterday. Any interest in going, today? Maybe Amber would be interested?”
Hours passed without a response. Her snippy middle-of-the-night text was eating at me. I didn’t believe her. It dawned on me that I could probably actually see who she’d been talking to. I opened my laptop and pulled up T-Mobile.com. When I clicked on Tina’s line, I was floored. I was right that she’d been talking to Nate, but the sheer volume of text messages and calls and minutes exceeded any weekend of conversations Tina and I had ever shared on the phone. By a country mile. There were over 40 text messages each way and a dozen phone calls that totaled hours and hours of talk time over the past two days. Friday night, right after Tina had texted me that she was “talked out,” she had called Nate and talked to him for two hours.
For a while, the room was spinning as I sat on the bed staring at my screen in astonishment. My vision blurred and I realized I was crying when tears spattered on my keyboard.
I knew it was the end for us and that felt like death looming at my door. I’m not sure how long it took me to pull myself together, but once I was standing again, I sprang into action, packing. I’d done this before, but I was fully moved in by this point. It was a considerably larger task than last time. I quickly realized that I wasn’t properly provisioned for the job. I drove to Walmart to buy some plastic totes. When I got back to the apartment to resume packing, my phone bleeped. Expecting that it was a message from Tina, I ignored it, at first and kept working on gathering my belongings.
When I did stop to look at my phone, it was like a blow to the head. The text had come not from Tina, but from her mother. “I’ll be home in an hour or so. Tina and I have a friend to visit, just so you know. I’m thinking you may want to look for another place to live… I’m looking to move out of Farmington by September 1st.”
I laughed humorlessly, then texted back, “I’m already packing.”
“Oh.” was all she sent back.
Minutes later, Tina finally texted herself. “I am just getting up,” she wrote, “Can I call you in a bit?”
“Why?” I texted back, indignant.
“I am on my way back to Farmington,” she wrote.
I turned my phone off and numbly got back to work. I think I was in shock.
I had half-filled boxes and totes and bags all over the place when Tina came down into the apartment. I kept packing and tried not to acknowledge her at first. Tina stood in the living room, seeming not to fully register her surroundings.
I finally stopped what I was doing and looked at her. At that point, she took a breath and said, “I’m not happy in this relationship anymore.”
I scoffed. “Oh. Really?” I went back into the bedroom to get some things off the bed.
“My mom and I are moving to Colorado,” Tina said, when I came back into the living room.
“Wow. When did you decide that?”
“Just today,” she said. “We’re going to stay with my brother.”
“Uh-Huh. When you get there, get into some therapy, get a job and get away from your mother. She’s keeping you sick,” I advised. I didn’t know what a narcissist was at the time, but I had recognized Maura’s role in infantalizing and misguiding Tina.
“I’ll never leave my mama. I love her too much,” she said.
That’s something I’d suspected for quite a while.
The insanity of it all had my head spinning. On the spur of the moment, they’d decided to move out of state in a couple weeks or so and this was how I was learning about all of it.
“And I think I should be able to keep my ring,” Tina said, “but I’ll give it back if you want it.” I had the feeling she’d been coached.
“Hell yes, I want the fucking ring back,” I said. There was no way I was going to let her profit on our phony engagement after all her lies and betrayals.
Tina took it off her finger and handed it to me. I slipped it on to my pinky, facing the diamond setting downward, so as not to lose it.
“All I ever wanted from you was honesty, Tina,” I said.
“And fidelity and I can’t give it. Me and my mom are going to visit a friend. We’ll be gone for a while,” Tina said.
I hadn’t said anything about fidelity. Just honesty. Sadly, I was so hooked on her that honesty might have been enough to keep me around, for a while at least. Even if that meant accepting her sexual escapades with other men. It would have slowly killed me, though.
“Hopefully, I won’t be here when you get back,” I replied. “You know… I am a good man, Tina.”
“Yes, you are,” she said quietly.
“I deserve better treatment than this.”
“Yes, you do,” she said.
“Now, at the end, could you be honest with me for one minute?”
“How many times did you cheat on me?”
“Never,” she replied.
I shook my head and carried on packing. I had more to say. I opened my mouth, but thought better of it. “Never mind. You’re not worth it,” I said aloud, instead.
Tina disappeared up the stairs and left me to it.
I had no idea where I was going to go. I was really wishing my Mom hadn’t left this world behind. I wanted to retreat to her shelter. I felt like Tina had been the last harbor for love in my life and I was cast into a dark and indifferent sea. Staying sober felt like a bigger immediate challenge than finding a place to sleep. Tina had been a major consideration in my decision to quit drinking and stay sober.
At one point, I found myself on my knees on a dirty spot of floor between the stove and a corner, sobbing uncontrollably. I gave up on trying to recover my things from the kitchen. I wasn’t even sure what all Tina had taken from my Mom’s house.
I ran out of boxes and totes, but time was unrelenting and I didn’t want to waste any more of it driving back to Walmart. I knew Maura had some sturdy empty totes in a closet, so I used a few of those to finish up. I left $40 behind to pay for them.
Eventually, I called it “done” and locked up the apartment. It had gotten late. I was surprised to find it growing dark outside when I climbed into my van.
I found myself in a liquor store parking lot, without ever making a conscious decision to go there. I turned off my van, got out, started walking towards the door and didn’t even realize where I was until l looked up at the sign. It spooked me. I got right back into the van and drove off.
A few blocks down the road, I pulled over to pull myself together before continuing.
I drove to a couple different motels in the area before I found one that wasn’t too seedy with a vacancy. Once I got checked in, I texted Tina. “I’ve moved everything out. I just need my phone back and my ‘heart,’ the dolphin agate.”
The agate had been given to me by my counselor when I graduated from treatment for alcohol addiction. Tina had an extraordinary affinity for agates and there was a gold foil dolphin stamped on this one. Dolphins had been a subject of conversation the night we’d first met, so I had seen some cosmic significance in that stone and given it to Tina one night, with a little bit of prose.
This is my heart;
You already own it;
I gave it to you;
Or you stole it;
Treat it well;
And it is yours forever.
The symbolism of it felt powerful and I needed to wrest it back from Tina.
I was moving alone, so I hadn’t been able to move the dresser or bookcase that I’d inherited from my mother, or my big, fancy grill – I’d hurt my back a bit trying to move that by myself. There were a few loose ends, unfortunately, and that kept me in contact with Tina for some time after moving out.
Ultimately, the dolphin agate ended up back in Tina’s possession. I realized it was no longer any good to me. I felt that both my metaphysical heart and the symbolic representation of it were worthless to anyone else and I hoped that Tina could take inspiration from that symbol of my sobriety to one day give up the drugs and alcohol that I deemed a destructive force in her life. Even then, I still cared about her.
Thus began a months-long decent into darkness and despair that felt like the end of my world. A severely wounded animal without even a cave of my own, I retreated to a hole in the ground. I was breathing but not living. I barely existed. I didn’t have even the faintest notion, nor did it remotely feel like it, but that was when long-overdue healing finally began.